When We Choose to See: Joshua Bell and Remi Gaillard

I was very excited to come across a video called Radar by Rèmi Gaillard, a French comedian who specializes in hidden camera videos with a surrealist twist.

In the video, Gaillard “impersonates” a police radar on the side of the road, among other places (in the middle of a field of corn, taking pictures of a tractor for example).  The ending is a surprise, you’ll have to watch it yourselves, but I will say that his stint as a speeding camera is severely interrupted. It reminded me of the good old days I spent as a Hugga-Box while in London, surveilling people with a digital recorder.

I am again fascinated by the concept of walking around in a cardboard box and fucking with people, and that it actually does fuck with people. They tend to feel violated, angry, and/or just confused. Why would someone do this? innocent bystanders must think.  Why is this person in a box interested in me, right now, when I rolled out of bed after a night of binge drinking and early morning sad sex? What are they going to do with the pictures they take of me, talking on my cell phone and drinking a latte?  Why is someone even calling attention to these facts by being interested in the first place?

Here’s another video of famed musician Joshua Bell playing during morning rush hour in D.C.  The stunt was a social experiment set up by the Washington Post to see who would take notice of beautiful music in a “banal setting”. Bell had played at Boston’s Symphony Hall to a packed house 3 nights before, and delivered himself to the Metro station at 7:51a  to perform 6 classical pieces au gratis for the rush hour audience.  It is also interesting to note that he played these pieces on a Strad violin made in 1713 (you know that’s the highest of the high-end instruments, right?  I didn’t).

There was never a crowd of more than a few commuters, and he earned $32 in 45 minutes. Pretty stunning considering the caliber of his music, and the fact that he normally rakes in about $1,000 a minute.

Now, ok, these are two totally different stories: Bell gifted the world with his prodigal musical talent while Gaillard donned painted cardboard and snapped pictures of license plates.  But to me, the connection between the two comes in the moment the audience chooses to see either of these performers.  While Bell was presenting something less threatening or political than either Gaillard or the Hugga-Box, his performance retains a commonality purely based on the potential reactions from the surrounding community.  One of, if not the most important, motivation behind these 3 performances is the desire to provoke someone enough, whether by picture-taking or entrancing music, that they choose to see the event instead of walk on by.  Once seen, the experience is then integrated into that person’s life in the present moment: they question what this experience means to them, how it makes them feel, and how they choose to react to it.

While I wonder what would have happened had Bell literally been more aggressive in his approach, I also understand it’s a moot point because to be aggressive, one must be perceived as such.  My experience inside the Hugga-Box was that my audience could have just as easily ignored me as punched my box (the UPS version). Same with Gaillard- people didn’t have to slow down or get out of their cars, but they did. Many reacted in anger or frustration simply because our events were making them question themselves and their behavior in an unwelcome fashion.  Other audience members accepted the playful nature of the interruption, perhaps even to the extent of naming it something other than an “interruption”.  All reactions could be seen as reactions to a questioning of the self, and therefore fruitful outcomes of the experiments.

The ultimate question I take away from all these performances is: when we choose to see, what happens to ourselves?



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